Why your WordPress e-commerce solution has to be secure (and how to do it)

Last updated on February 20th, 2020 by Mark Grima. Filed under Uncategorized

There’s plenty you need to do to ensure your e-commerce store offers the best possible User Experience (UX). This means keeping WordPress and all other software up-to-date, optimizing your store, and of course, ensuring it’s safe to use and secure.

By safe to use, we mean making your best to protecting your customer’s data. Also making sure nobody besides you or your team has access to your store’s back end. For example, choosing the right web host goes a long way towards offering a secure e-commerce experience. However, that’s just one of many factors.

In this article, we’re going to talk about why it’s so important for your WordPress e-commerce site to be secure. We’ll also walk you through eight ways to protect your ecommerce store. Let’s get right to it!

Why your WordPress e-commerce solution needs to be secure

We often talk about how to keep something secure. Though we very rarely explain why it needs to be secure, and what the benefits are.

You’ve probably made a few online purchases yourself. If your payment information are leaked because an e-commerce store you use got hacked, you’re not going to shop there again. Trust plays a massive factor in where we choose to spend our money, especially online. This means if your store isn’t safe, secure and looks trustworthy, customers will look elsewhere.

When a website gets hacked, it tends to leave visitors somewhat spooked. If it’s an online store, you’re not only talking about a loss of trust. You also miss out on potential sales while you clean up and try to recover the website.

The best approach in online security is to be proactive. If you make an effort now to tighten your e-commerce store’s security, it’s going to save you a lot of time and headaches down the road.

Keep in mind – there’s much more involved in running a successful online store beyond security. You also want to keep products updated, optimize your site and do several other tasks. Those are what we call website and online store maintenance tasks, and although they are a chore, they’re essential. For now, though, let’s focus on security.

10 things you should do to keep your WordPress e-commerce store secure

A default installation of WordPress is secure. However, this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to make your e-commerce store safer and more secure. Let’s walk you through the ten most important things you can do to enforce higher security standards.

1. Choose a trusted web host

Choosing the right WordPress web host for your e-commerce store is the first of many important things you will do.Some web hosts have higher security standards than others. What’s for sure is that you want to avoid shared hosting for your online store.

Not only does shared hosting offer a slower overall performance, but the security of your online store is not something you can control. In a shared hosting your website is running on the same server with other websites, and if these websites are not maintained they expose your website to hack attacks. Unfortunately this is a very common scenario.

These days it’s easy enough to find Virtual Private Server (VPS) plans that adapt to any budget, so costs and budgets shouldn’t be an excuse either. You essentially want a plan that gives you full control over your server. That way, you can make any changes necessary to increase security, which is something you can’t do with shared plans in most cases.

For more information on the different types of web hosts refer to the cons and pros of the different WordPress web hosts.

2. Use a secure payment gateway

Employing a third-party payment gateway is one of the best way to protect your customers and own business from fraud. By routing transactions through another provider, the handling of cardholder data and other customer information is handled by a third party and is not stored on your server and website.

If you opt to develop and use your own custom solution, most probably you’ll be responsible for storing customers’ cardholder data on your website. You’ll be required to encrypt all the data and communication with the bank, and take all the necessary security measures to keep that information safe. This also means that your business needs to be compliant with a number of regulatory compliance requirements.

On the other hand, if you use a big and reputable payment gateway such as PayPal or Stripe, you know that security has been taken care off. These big companies definitely have the right resources and knowledge to maintain secure payment systems. Some payment gateways even offer automated fraud protection and a suite of tools to help you with handling payments etc.

3. Use strong credentials & enable 2FA

Most people know you should use unique, hard-to-guess passwords for each account you have online. However, most people don’t follow these known password security best practices. If you’re running an online store, you can’t afford that luxury.

Right out of the gate, we recommend you enable Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). You should also enforce the use of strong passwords for anyone on your team, given that they may have access to sensitive business information and cardholder data.

Two-Factor Authentication for WordPress

Use a password manager, which is the best way to generate and store secure, unique passwords for all your accounts. The sticky note on the monitor era is well and truly over!

When it comes to customers, it can be hard to impress the use of secure passwords. However, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort and inform them about password security when they sign up. There are also ways how to enforce strong e-commerce store passwords without deterring customers. That is particularly important if you use a payment processor that stores credit card details that can be accessed from the customers’ own accounts.

4. Keep your WordPress and all other software up to date

Keeping the software you use up to date is essential to ensure it remains secure. Most people think about updates in terms of what functionality they add to the software they use. However, updates are also crucial to fix discovered security flaws and implement safer practices. Also, more recent software means more efficient software, reducing the chances of any customers having issues using your website. This applies to WordPress core, plugins, themes, the server’s operating system, the web server service and all the other client software you use.

As a rule of thumb, if WordPress tells you there’s an update available, run it.

5. Regularly backup your online store and test the restores

Do regular backups of your website and e-commerce store. Use an automated WordPress backup service. Do not even consider doing manual backups, because you’ll definitely forget to run them.

It is also very important to do some test restores, in an offline environment from time to time. This is a very important best practice that helps you ensure all your website’s data is being backed up and that you can actually restore your website in case required.

6. Use the correct user roles and privileges

WordPress has a number of user roles built-in. Since you’re the person in charge, you’re probably a WordPress Administrator. This means you get full access to every feature WordPress offers, and you can make any changes you want to your website. In addition, you also have access to your hosting panel.

Assigning the correct user roles is essential. For members of your team, they should never have the same level of access as you. It’s not a matter of trust, it’s just about good security practices. Aply the concept of the least possible privileges when it comes to WordPress users.

If, for example, there’s someone on your team in charge of writing product descriptions, they should have access to do just that. They should not be allowed to install plugins, access the website files via SFTP, or be able to change your server’s configuration.

Out of the box, WordPress has six default user roles. Those six default options work great for blogs, but you may also want to set up custom profiles depending on what tasks you need your team to carry out.

7. Keep a log of everything that happens on your website and e-commerce store

It’s not uncommon for big retailers to have cameras that record everything that goes on in a store. The ideal is that you’ll never need the recordings. However, it’s always a good idea to have them in case something goes wrong.

Security logs, also known as activity logs are helpful in much the same manner and they also improve user accountability. With the right activity logs plugin you can keep detailed logs of everything that occurs on your website. For example, failed login attempts, general site changes, changing a plugin’s configuration, and practically any other action on your site.

Beyond this, keeping logs is necessary if you want your store to be PCI DDS compliant (which we’ll talk about in a minute).

Keep a log of changes that happen on your e-commerce store

You also can’t beat logs when it comes to WordPress troubleshooting. They help you pinpoint the source of errors rather than having to do guesswork. So should there be any problems you can fix your store quickly. There are plenty of excellent log plugins you can use and there’s little reason to skip this.

8. Ensure Your Website is PCI DSS Compliant

The acronym PCI DDS stands for Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard. In a nutshell, PCI DSS encompasses several rules and security standards you need to follow to accept credit card payments online.

If you’re using a third-party payment processor, chances are they already do everything on their end so you’re usually compliant with PCI DSS regulations. For example, they protect payment information for your clients, encrypt their data, and more.

However, this doesn’t mean there’s no setup on your end. For your website to be PCI DSS compliant, you’ll want to set up a firewall to protect customer information, secure your website with HTTPS (we’ll cover this next!), keep WordPress up-to-date, and restrict access to customer information on a need-to-know basis for your team. According to PCI DSS regulations, you also have to log access to network resources and customer information, which we’ve already taken care of in the last step.

The good news is, if you follow all the advice in this article, your website should be in compliance with PCI DSS regulation without you needing to do anything else. Beyond helping you avoid fines, this also ensures your online store is as secure as Fort Knox, so it’s a win-win!

9. Host your WordPress e-commerce store & website on HTTPS

If you take a look at your favorite websites, we’re willing to bet almost all of them use HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). In simple terms, HTTPS is required to encrypt all of the data that is exchanged between your e-commerce store and the prospects’s computers. Spotting websites that don’t use HTTPS is easy. Most browsers nowadays will show you a warning when you visit an unsecured website, and you do not want your website visitors to get that message:

In contrast, websites using HTTPS usually display a little padlock icon right next to the navigation bar. This represents three things:

  1. The website uses a valid SSL/TLS certificate, which validates its ‘identity.’
  2. The connection between you and the website is encrypted.
  3. It reaffirms the integrity of the data that moves between you and the website.

Keeping your visitor’s data safe is always of the utmost importance. However, it’s even more crucial for e-commerce websites, as sensitive data passes through the system multiple times per day. For more information on HTTPS etc refer to our guide for WordPress administrators on HTTPS, SSL and TLS.

10. Only use reputable and reliable WordPress plugins and software

Your e-commerce store is your shop. You want your shop to look good. You want it to be fast and easy to use, so it converts all those prospects into customers. To have a reliable online store with great UX you need to use reliable and reputable software.

You do not need to be a rocket scientist to recognize good software. Just do a bit of research before you install a new plugin or software to add new functionality; always test everything before you install it on the live website, read the documentation to make sure it is properly configured, and read what other users are saying about that solution. Ideally you should also contact their support with some questions, to find out more about the solution and see how quickly they get back to you.

Final thoughts on e-commerce security and customer trust

When someone buys a product through your online store, it means they’re trusting you to protect their information. To uphold that trust, it’s your job to ensure your online e-commerce store is secure and looks (and is) trustworthy. Beyond that, upholding high security standards will also save you a lot of headaches over the long run. If you want to make sure your WordPress e-commerce website is as safe as it can be, these ten steps are a great start:

  1. Choose a trusted web hosting service.
  2. Use a secure and trusted payment gateway.
  3. Use strong login credentials for you and your team and enable 2FA.
  4. Keep your WordPress core, plugins, themes and all software up to date.
  5. Regularly backup your online store and do test restores.
  6. Use the correct user roles and the principle of least possible privileges.
  7. Keep a log of every site and user change that happens on your website.
  8. Ensure your website is PCI DSS compliant.
  9. Host your WordPress e-commerce store on HTTPS.
  10. Only use reputable and reliable WordPress plugins and software.

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